Attorneys hope to prove wrongful conviction for man accused in 2008 killing of UNCC student

Updated: Apr. 2, 2019 at 8:38 PM EDT
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GASTON COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - Attorneys hope an evidentiary hearing will prove their client, Mark Carver, was wrongfully convicted of murder. Carver is currently serving a life sentence in the 2008 killing of UNC Charlotte college student Ira Yarmolenko.

Yarmolenko's body was found near her car along the banks of the Catawba River in 2008. It's believed she went to the river to take pictures for a class assignment.

UNC Charlotte student Irina Yarmolenko
UNC Charlotte student Irina Yarmolenko(Photo provided to WBTV (custom credit))

Carver and his cousin Neal Cassada had been fishing nearby. Investigators said the cousins strangled Yarmolenko and tried to push her car into the water.

The hearing got underway Tuesday morning.

Both men said they never heard any commotion near where Yarmolenko died. The two cooperated with police and provided fingerprints and DNA.

Carver was convicted in 2011 largely based on DNA evidence said to be found on the student’s car. Cassada died of a heart problem on the eve of his trial.

Gaston County prosecutors argued that DNA evidence from Yarmolenko's car put Carver at the scene; however, his DNA was not recovered from cords used to strangle her.

The DNA evidence used is called “touch DNA.” It was the first time it had been used in a North Carolina trial. Research has since called its accuracy into question.

“I believe there is evidence that will definitively prove his innocence,” Chris Mumma, an attorney with the NC Center on actual innocence, said in 2016. Mumma has been working the case for five years.

Mark Carver may be 51 years old, but during Tuesday’s hearing, his lawyers say there’s no way he could have murdered 20-year-old Ira Yarmolenko because he has the IQ of a first grader.

Gaston County’s district attorney Locke Bell dismissed that claim and said Carver was competent enough to get a driver and fishing license, drive a four-wheeler and take care of himself. Something that Carver’s psychiatrist, was able to back up during cross-examination. The medical expert said Carver, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, was taking his medication regularly.

A forsenic evidence specialist by the name of William Green was also called to the stand by the defense as a witness in the case. Carver’s lawyer asked about corruption of evidence and Green told the courtroom that someone messed around with Ira’s laptop that was inside her home before police were able to seize it, but through cross-examination by the DA, Green also said that there was no proof any evidence was purposely ruined by police officers during their investigation.

“It’s about not just writing the wrong for the person who’s in prison, but righting the wrong for the victim who never received justice,” Mumma said.

The Gaston County District Attorney admits no motive for the killing could be found, but says he's convinced justice was done.

"I have no doubts whatsoever," the attorney said referring to whether he felt the right person was behind bars.

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